Virtuous Governance

Ira Katz has offered a response, continuing the dialogue that began with his initial question: Is it inherent in the nature of free market capitalism for the most wealthy individuals and/or corporations to capture government power?  He answers, “Yes, but keep capitalism.”  He also graciously acknowledges my several posts in exploring his initial question.

I would like to follow up on a couple of tangential, and maybe not-so-tangential, points made in this current response.  Ira begins by noting an analysis by Hans Hoppe, where Hoppe recognizes the reality that Marxists see quite clearly the relationship of wealth and state power, just as libertarians and those who favor free markets do; the issue, or difference, is what to do about it.  Ira writes:

[Hoppe] ends his essay “…. the end of exploitation and the beginning of liberty and unheard of economic prosperity, means the establishment of a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law.”

Ira does not agree, noting: “My original question and my answer imply that I do not believe so.”  In other words, “a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law” is not sufficient in Ira’s view (nor, obviously, in mine).  Ira properly asks: “Can there be a virtuous government without a virtuous people?”  Of course, the answer is no; this is what I wish to explore.

For this, I must come back to Hoppe, and separate him from the other libertarians Ira notes.  There is much more to Hoppe than this.  In September, 2018, Hoppe gave a very important talk at his annual Property and Freedom Society Conference, entitled “The Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative.”

Why do I find it important?  If dry facts, rational arguments, and reason are sufficient to win the debate, libertarians and Austrians have won the debate, hands down.  These are not sufficient, as it is narrative that wins the day, that wins the argument.  We live in a narrative, a story; we don’t live in a formula.

Even if you believe that we are nothing more than an accident of nature, nothing more than random atoms smashed together randomly, we certainly don’t live as if this is true.  My mother and father are something more to me than blobs of matter.

The left understands this quite well.  They create stories about Russians and elections, viruses that make breathing a life-ending event.  The greatest of all: the story that destroys all stories – critical theory, the success of which has divorced us from all stories that give life meaning.  Hence, we are left to be molded by whatever destructive narrative the left chooses to foist upon us.

So, back to Hoppe’s talk.  His grand historical narrative was not one that demonstrated “a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law.”  In this talk and after offering a sweeping background on the relationship of science, technology and engineering, Hoppe offers up…the Ten Commandments – seeing in these values necessary for a peaceful, cooperative society:

Setting the first four commandments aside, which refer to our relation to God as the one and only ultimate moral authority and final judge of our earthly conduct and the proper celebration of the Sabbath, the rest, referring to worldly affairs, display a deep and profoundly libertarian spirit.

Honor you father and mother; don’t murder, commit adultery, or steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet your neighbor’s wife or house or belongings.

Some libertarians may argue that not all of these commandments have the same rank or status.

Of course not.  Some of these do not violate the non-aggression principle.  As Hoppe notes, however, there is nothing said here about the severity or type of punishment:

Yet this difference between a strict and rigid libertarianism and the ten biblical commandments does not imply any incompatibility of the two. Both are in complete harmony if only a distinction is made between legal prohibitions on the one hand…and extra-legal or moral prohibitions on the other hand…

Some may be appropriately punished via physical violence; others by social disapproval or even ostracism.

Indeed, thus interpreted the full six mentioned commandments can be recognized as even an improvement over a strict and rigid libertarianism – given the common, shared goal of social perfection: of a stable, just and peaceful social order.

Hoppe offers: in a society where parents are habitually disrespected, where the idea of hierarchies are mocked, where marriage is discounted and adultery is exalted, where honesty is not respected…can one expect liberty to shine?  Do these characteristics make for a virtuous people necessary for virtuous government?  The answer is an obvious no.

My point is, Hoppe goes beyond a strict private-law society – and goes beyond the other libertarians mentioned in Ira’s piece.  Unlike some libertarian thinkers, Hoppe understands the necessity of this if one is after liberty.

Returning to Ira’s piece, and referencing one of the points I made in an earlier response:

The “something outside of human reach” Bionic advocates is Christianity and I for one agree. But I also do not preclude the possibility of other belief systems meeting this need.

I am not so sure.  Again, in Hoppe’s piece, Hoppe references the tradition of the Middle Ages and Western Christendom.  It was here where the framework of libertarian governance was at its best – and it is why I titled this post using the word “governance,” not “government” – at least not “government” as we understand and use the term today.

I will not dive into Hoppe’s comments on this aspect.  His comments are worth reading, and, in any case, I have written too often on this topic.  In summary: During the medieval period, the Church and king were separate – not always perfectly so, but by design and often.  The king held the military as a weapon, the Church so held excommunication; one could appeal to the Church if he felt his rights violated by the king, or appeal to the king if he felt his rights violated by the Church.

There was no state; there was no monopoly of authority.  There was no sovereign, unless by “sovereign,” one meant the law.  For a thousand years, this was the system that developed – again, not perfectly, not in a straight line, but it was the system.

So, why do I not agree with Ira’s statement that other belief systems might meet the same need?  For two reasons, I guess.

First, show me.  Where else in the world, in what other culture or tradition, did the ideas of the individual, reason, and liberty (bound by responsibility) take root and continue for more than a millennium?  Nowhere, that’s where.

Which brings me to my second reason: We take this for granted in the West, that somehow what we have gained due to Christian ethics can be held without holding onto the “Christian” part – forgetting what was considered ethical in Rome or Greece before.  Nietzsche knew better.  After recognizing, through his Madman, that God was dead in the West, he would write, in The Twilight of the Idols:

As for us, we act differently. When we renounce the Christian faith, we abandon all right to Christian morality. This is not by any means self-evident and in defiance of English shallow-pates the point must be made ever more and more plain. Christianity is a system, a complete outlook upon the world, conceived as a whole. If its leading concept, the belief in God, is wrenched from it, the whole is destroyed; nothing vital remains in our grasp.

Nietzsche’s solution was the superman.  Well, we are living under the ethics created by the supermen.  Our liberty has not flourished in the intervening 100-plus years.  Nietzsche continues:

Christianity presupposes that man does not and cannot know what is good or bad for him: the Christian believes in God who, alone, can know these things. Christian morality is a command, its origin is transcendental.

Here is where I will disagree with Nietzsche.  I do believe that the non-Christian, but rational, man who understands something of the Western tradition can discover Christian morality as it is made manifest in natural law.  But I do not believe natural law is sustainable without a largely Christian society, a Christian society that understands the need for and definition of virtuous governance.

Of course, it is easy to criticize these views, but only by those who believe men can be angels (setting aside that even some angels fell…).  It is easy to poke holes at medieval Christendom, and very easy to poke holes at Christians today.  But, compared to what, when, where, or whom?

Don’t compare the shortcomings of Christian men to some idea of perfection; compare these to Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, the Young Turks, etc.  The list is endless.  Theirs was the ethic of might makes right; Christianity gave us the ethic of love your neighbor.

None of these others ended slavery; none of these gave women and minorities equal standing to men and the majority; none of these cared for the poor, the sick; none opened hospitals for the needy or created universities.  Christian men and women did all of these.  All of these others committed atrocities that make any real or exaggerated claim about the Crusades or Inquisition appear as a child’s game.

Why do I believe it is only through the tradition of Christianity that something moving toward liberty, as a libertarian would understand it, is possible?  As I have written on this before, I offer here only the two key points:

  • Man was made in God’s image, telling us something about the respect we must have for every man and every woman.  This is found in both the Hebraic and Christian tradition
  • Jesus – both God and the Son of God – gave Himself as sacrifice, offering the highest sacrifice possible, thereby offering a way out from under any transgression and also making clear that we no longer had anything to gain by sacrificing each other.  This is found only in the Christian tradition.

All things regarding the liberty of the individual can be deduced from these, but there are several other points to add, with some further detail available here.

Where else is this combination to be found, in what other tradition?  Nowhere.  And it is not just chance that it was from these roots, when combined with Germanic traditions of honor and individual law, where our liberty was born.  From no other tradition is this to be found.  We throw this away, we throw away liberty.

I know, I know…many libertarians view Christianity as unnecessary for liberty, even an enemy of liberty.  I offer for you my canned response whenever I hear such objections; the more I have come to understand the reality of history and the necessity of a Christian ethic and natural law, the more I find such arguments to be childish…

…and, worse, dangerous.  One other thought for libertarians who believe Christianity stands in the way of liberty: why is it that the communists know Christianity is the enemy that must be destroyed if communism is to win out?  Only one side or the other can be right about this.  Will removing Christianity usher in an era of liberty or an era of communism?  It can’t be both.  Look around us and tell me: as we see Christianity in decline, which side is winning?

The communist Antonio Gramsci figured this out almost one hundred years ago, and it is his playbook that we are seeing in action today.  Cultural Marxism has nothing to do with Marx; it is Gramsci.  And Gramsci knew that Christianity had to be destroyed if communism was to win the West.

Conclusion

So, what about the “virtuous” part called for by Ira, and to which I agree.  The Western tradition has handed us seven virtues; four natural, or Cardinal, virtues, and three theological virtues:

Natural, or Cardinal Virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, and Justice.

Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Is liberty possible without a virtuous people?  To ask the question is to answer it.  And one virtue ties all the others together, ensuring none of the other virtues is unleashed to exaggeration:

1 Corinthians 13: 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Which leads me back to my initial three posts in response to Ira’s initial question:

–          One Answer to An Important Social / Political / Economic Question of Our Time

–          Free Market Capitalism as the Highest Value (Part Two)

–          The Way Out and the Way To (Part Three)

Unless love, properly understood, is at the top of the hierarchy (as is the case in both Christianity and natural law ethics), you can kiss liberty goodbye.  The evidence is all around us and the verdict is clear.

Epilogue

As I seem to have to do whenever I write like this: no, I am not advocating for a theocracy.  Natural law is an ethic; natural rights define proper law.  Natural rights are limited to life and property, and this must be the extent of formal law.  Full stop.

But without a natural law ethic, natural rights are lost to us.

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